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Highland Park School System Facing Payless Payday

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HIGHLAND PARK (WWJ/AP) – The Highland Park School district is more than $11 million in debt.

WWJ’s Jon Hewitt reports that without state assistance there will be no paychecks Friday for Highland Park teachers and district employees.

“We know that we need to be paid, that’s a given. But it’s up to other individuals to make that decision – I’m going to come to work,” said Highland Park School superintendent Edith Hightower.

Until she sees it in writing Hightower says she can’t comment on the apparent $4 million plan being finalized by the legislature, or the caveat that a charter school or other districts might be involved.

But she was clear that the money is not there to pay the roughly 100 teachers and district support staff on time Friday, without state help.

“We are inciting chaos – within kids not knowing if their teachers are going to be there on Monday. This is a new normal in education and unfortunately there is no road map,” said Hightower.

“I don’t think we have done right by the kids,” said Hightower.

Hightower told Talk Radio 1270 morning show host Charlie Langton she can’t guarantee what teachers will do if the budget bottom drops out on Friday. Read more, here.

On Wednesday, a state-appointed review team determined for the second time that a financial emergency exists in Highland Park Public Schools. Read more, here.

The Highland Park school board says it won’t oppose the appointment of an emergency manager to oversee the financially strapped district’s finances.

The Republican-led Legislature Thursday approved legislation, backed by the governor, that would accommodate Highland Park students for the remainder of the academic year. But it’s unlikely the state will give the district another cash advance as it did in January and earlier this month.

Highland Park officials have until March 1 to request a hearing on Snyder’s determination that a financial emergency exists.

The state gave the district an advance of $188,000 in January and $261,000 already this month. The Snyder administration appears unwilling to make another advance payment at this point.

Under legislation approved Thursday, another school district or intermediate school district could step in and offer classes to students, keeping them in their current classrooms with their current teachers, although that management switch can’t happen until an emergency manager is back in place.

Students also would have the option to transfer to other districts or charter schools, and state financial support would move with them. About $4 million would be set aside to help with the transition but none of the money would go directly to the Highland Park school district.

The House passed the bill by a 63-45 vote along party lines, and the Senate approved the bill by a 23-13, mostly party line vote.

Gov. Rick Snyder will sign the legislation Friday morning, spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said Thursday night in a text message to The Associated Press

“How we went about it was to minimize any kind of disruption that those kids or their families would have because of the situation that school board led them into,” said Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe.

Democrats mostly opposed the bill, with some saying the state is partly responsible for the problems in Highland Park because of overall education funding cuts in place statewide for the current budget year.

Passage of the measure won’t prevent Friday’s payless payday, which Ari Adler – a spokesman for Republican House Speaker Jase Bolger – called a “forgone conclusion” Thursday afternoon.

Robert Davis, a Highland Park school board member whose lawsuit led to the temporary idling of the state’s emergency manager, said the status of an advanced state payment to meet payroll “is yet to be determined.”

David Hecker, president of Michigan’s American Federation of Teachers chapter, said the union is working to help avoid a payless payday. But Hecker said if there is one, he expects teachers and union-represented staff would report to work. Hecker said it’s expected that paychecks eventually would be issued, likely sometime next week.

“There’s no question in my mind that people would go to work,” Hecker said. “They do this job because of their commitment to the children of Highland Park.”

The school district’s money troubles are partially tied to the exodus of students leaving the schools and the subsequent loss of per-pupil funding from the state. The district has seen enrollment drop from 3,179 students in 2006 to about 970 this year.

TM and © Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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